Corn refiners grasping at straws in effort to convince industry not to ditch HFCS

Posted by
January 13, 2015




What do you do if you’re the Corn Refiners Association and you’re running out of strategies for making an unhealthy and unpopular ingredient like high fructose corn syrup continue to seem appealing to food manufacturers?

Well, you could resort to a kind of “moderation” in your approach (sort of like the way you advise that products containing HFCS be consumed). For instance, how about acknowledging some of the virtues of organic food, which by definition contains no HFCS?

I know that sounds a bit bizarre – but it seems to be the new game plan of the CRA, if the current on-line edition of its industry-targeted “sweetener report,” is any indication.

Billed as “the latest insights on consumer attitudes and purchase behaviors surrounding sweeteners,” this newsletter actually offers more of an insight into how the corn refiners are attempting to “spin” the public’s growing rejection of their cheap, disease-causing sweetener and persuade food companies to stop dropping it from their products.

And judging from “the unprecedented Sweetener360 research” if offers, the association’s new modus operandi is apparently to run with any source of information or opinion it can find that seems to lend support to the idea that HFCS is no worse for us than sucrose and other natural sweeteners. Even if it means calling attention to things that reflect well on the organic industry, such as those found in a Consumer Reports article that ran in The Washington Post last month to which the CRA provides a link.

Under the headline “Good-for-you foods may not really be good for you,” the article discusses the “reality” behind some food-label claims. But it seems to have nothing but good things to say about organic foods such as “The ‘USDA Organic’ label is one of the best guarantees that the animal didn’t receive antibiotics.”

Among the other claims discussed are things we’ve talked about here at Food Identity Theft, particularly the fact that “zero trans fat” doesn’t necessarily mean the product has none, if partially hydrogenated oil among its ingredients. In that case, it can contain up to 0.5 grams of the artery-clogging additive per “serving” and still be labeled trans-fat free.

But the CRA’s apparent reason for providing a link to this particular article is a paragraph that begins, “If the label says “No high fructose corn syrup,” that doesn’t mean ‘no added sugar’.” It then proceeds to claim that “tossing high fructose corn syrup off an ingredients list has more to do with marketing than with science. Similar to sugar chemically, it’s often used because it’s cheaper and helps maintain color, texture and flavor. But it has roughly the same calories as sugar and similar health risks, notes Walter Willett, chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.”

Omission accomplished

What isn’t mentioned, however, is that Willett was one of 41 scientists and physicians who two years ago signed a letter to Food and Drug Administration commissioner Margaret Hamburg in support of a petition filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest urging the FDA to set “safe limits” of “high fructose corn syrup and other sugars in soft drinks.” Or that Willett and his colleagues, according to a 2013 CSPI news release, have conducted epidemiology studies that strongly link consumption of such “sugary drinks” (which is the term commonly used to describe beverages sweetened with HFCS) to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and gout.” Nor, of course, is there any reference to the various studies from leading universities and medical facilities showing that there are indeed sound scientific and health-related reasons for “tossing high fructose corn syrup off an ingredients list” – reasons that not only include obesity, heart disease and diabetes, but pancreatic cancer and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is now becoming a major health problem.

But those are risks that are likely overstated, according to another article to which a link is provided by – one appearing at the website under the headline, “Naturally opposed? Balancing new technologies with consumer perceptions.”

This article talks about “Ingredient-based fears” (yes, the same ones the CRA has funded two separate studies on, as we’ve noted in previous blogs) often being the “result of exaggerations on the risk of the ingredient — like “leading to obesity or having unintended effects on the body” – and a “potential underestimation of any benefit the ingredient may provide,” with the examples cited being “possibly decreasing the price of products, extending their shelf life, etc.”

In other words, is it more important to you that an ingredient like HFCS might make you fat and have “unintended effects” in your body, or that a product containing it might “possibly” cost a bit less?

As for “extending shelf life,” that ‘s really not a purpose of adding HFCS, but rather of partially hydrogenated oil – the same additive that the Consumer Reports article warns might have its trans fat content misrepresented on the label.

Clearly, the CRA is now grasping at straws, if such flimsy and contradictory “insights” represent the best reasons it can come up with for why food companies shouldn’t continue dumping high fructose corn syrup overboard.